Sunday, 25 July 2010



At one dimly-lit corner of a buzzing café on the FC Road, the girl presses the guy's private part. He then presses her thigh and moves his hand all over her. She keeps adjusting her position to help him. They are oblivious to the fact that like old spy thrillers, I am watching them between my share of coffee and pretension of reading a newspaper. This 'couple-in-action' has been in my radar for a while only because they are in their school uniforms.

I am perhaps not the right person to talk or write about sex. The fact of my life, so far, is that I never had sex. There were opportunities and possibilities too. But, somehow, I slipped out of the passion's lure. Still, I am the one who's been doing rounds at the malls, parks, cafés, streets, multiplexes and poorly-lit public spaces with one sole purpose: to spy on amorous couples and monitor their body movements.

Anyway, as I move in the public spaces, I witness more such acts of sensual pleasures. There is nothing new in that, except to see much younger people exploring the world of physical intimacy, rather openly. It is not just walking hand-in-hand and saying sweet nothings as my friends did during their teenage. I am also not talking about the pillion-riding girl who tightly hugs the bike-driving guy and kisses his neck at every traffic stoppage. That is just a dated 'public display of affection' or the PDA. Today's teenagers --- and they are not few in numbers as I realise --- know which condom suits them better and which pill won't cause trouble. The age of sexual experience seems to have gone down. That is a revelation of sorts to me. So I decide to start talking with the young people. Talking sex, that is. And in the process, I learn new things about people and ways. Here are the excerpts of those conversations:

Delhi-based mediaperson Neelabh, a young man in his mid 20s, thinks “pre-marital sex is not wrong, if the two people are committed to each other”. He, however, thinks it is wrong to indulge in sex during teenage.

A young Afsana in Pune doesn't approve of the pre-marital or teenage sex. “I shall not go for it, unless I get married. There must be some restriction on our behaviour,” she says, though she isn't judgemental about young people --- many of her friends including --- who indulge into pre-marital sex. “Several of my unmarried friends, both girls and guys, have a 'sex life'. The girls are little wary of the entire thing. The guys think it's 'cool' to sleep with several girls,” Afsana adds.

Eighteen-year-old Ajay “cannot imagine” that one can claim to be a 'mature person' without having experienced sex. “How can I claim to be strong and mature, otherwise?” he asks. Ajay shares a bit of backgrounder: “Every guy of my class in the school was doing it. So I also did it with a girl in my school two years back. I liked it so much that I do it regularly now, and the girls enjoy it. They all say that I am good at it,” he informs candidly. Just as a 'mature man' should be talking, perhaps.

But his 'maturity' doesn't give Ajay enough courage to look at me directly; he gazes at the menu card of the eatery on the SB Road as he divulges his secrets: how he procured the first set of condoms using a decoy, what he says to his parents after returning late from a 'study group' that covers up for his sex sojourns, and how he approaches the “hot chicks” through titillating text messages or by deliberately exposing his brawn self or by showing them “that kind of photographs in tabloids”.
'Do you ever doubt your actions with several girls?' I ask him.
“No. But sometimes I think whether I should confess to my wife, when I get married. That's all,” Ajay replies.
'Where do you do it all?' I ask. “There are good places... you have to spend a bit of money,” he replies and doesn't say anything more. I don't press further. “Please don't print my real name,” Ajay requests me as he rides his sleek bike to leave. That was already assured before our common contact arranged for this meeting.

The same evening, I meet Nidhi and Neelesh who claim to be in a relationship. “But our relationship would have been incomplete, if we didn't get to know each other very intimately,” the guy explains. The girl agrees. This intimacy do not get hindered by the fact that both are yet to complete their pre-University schooling. “There's no right age for first sexual experience. If you are ready, just go for it. It's nobody's business as long as we are doing it in private,” Neelesh says.

They don't seem worry about the associated health issues. “We are not into multiple partners,” the guy tries to assure me. “Our parents are okay about our friendship. But they don't know everything that we do,” he adds. “Two of us know each other, and that's all should matter,” Nidhi finally opens up in a shy voice. She is “not even used to talking sex with other guys”, I learn, though she reveals that she is into pills. How does she gets them? Nidhi won't tell me that.

For 17-year-old Aziz, “sex is all about making love”. His “first experience was with a senior girl in the school,” he says. “We have a storage room on the roof that remains open... we did it there. That was about a year ago,” Aziz informs. There is “nothing wrong in pre-marital sex or teenage sex”, as Aziz contends, “if the people concerned agree to have the pleasurable experience”. So he has no qualms in talking openly about his kind of girls among his friends. “It helps to send the message to the willing chicks, you see,” he says. And he “boldly” goes to medicine shops to get his condoms. “My motto is 'It's My Life', so I must enjoy,” the bright student of a reputed school in Pune tells me over coffee. But, “sex should not be a loveless act or become an addiction”, he cautions. That sounds somewhat like a dichotomy. Or maybe, it isn't.

It took a bit of cajoling to get a young Rachna --- whom I know personally, talking and that too over the phone. “Sex takes me to a different level,” she says. “The first time I had sex with my guy, we forged a special bonding,” she maintains about her foray into pre-marital sex.
'Was there any peer pressure to conform?' I ask. “No,” replies Rachna. “Initially, there was some resistance from both of us, but because our relationship was stable, we thought that sex will be a good adventure. And it was really so good,” she affirms. “No regrets,” Rachna sounds happy.

Mumbai-based Ronit became curious about sex when his friends “began to crack vulgar jokes about women”. Till then Ronit --- now a student of Standard 10 --- had no idea at all about sex. “I started to look at women differently. I wanted to experience sex. I had told that to one my friends who's a girl,” he says in a hesitant voice. “Then one evening, last year, I was at the home of that girl. There was no one else then. She suddenly kissed me... you know. And then she began it... she wanted it and taught me everything,” he reveals. Gradually, “it became an addiction” for him. “But, we broke up later. Now I feel bad about it all. I am trying to avoid it as much as I can, and concentrate on the studies,” he says. “But it is difficult... for me it was not just physical,” Ronit says, thus hinting at the agony such situations can bring about.
(Some of the names of the respondents to this survey have been changed to protect their identities. My thanks to all the respondents and the contacts. Much appreciated)

EXPERTS TALK SEX: “Teenage sex is bound to happen as we are opening up to the world and are observing how societies beyond India behave,” says Dr Samir Parikh, psychiatrist and chief of the Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences at the Max Healthcare, New Delhi. “The Indian school children find young people elsewhere indulging in sex. So, they too want to join the league,” Parikh explains. So just as it is 'cool' to smoke and dope because others are doing that, for the modern boys and girls in schools, it is 'cool' to explore each other's body with or without protections. “And it is not just few young people. The entire generation is going through the change in mindset, but the society is in denial mode,” Parikh believes.

Is that the case really or are we reading too much, I ask Dr Shekhar Seshadri, professor of psychiatry at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS) in Bengaluru. “Yes, more and more young people, including the teenagers, are experimenting with sex,” he confirms. Being an expert in 'child and adolescent psychiatry', and an activist against child sexual abuse, the professor knows it well.

He ascribes several reasons for the increased teenage sex. “There are lot of inappropriate images in the media, and it's not just pornography. Moreover, there is no culture of discourse within the families to discuss sex' across the generations,” he says. “In some cases, the control of the family over the children is low. The situation gets compounded by peer pressure”. Interestingly, Dr Seshadri also refers to the decreased age in puberty: “In case of girls, it can be as early as nine-and-half to 10 years of age. There have been biological-psychological changes in women”. But even after all of this, the “situation is not out of control as yet,” he assures. “However, for special population of children, like those living on the streets or in the slums, instances of sexual and substance abuse are alarmingly high,” he warns.

Dr Parikh avoids the use of words like 'morality' and 'immorality' while discussing. Dr Seshadri too doesn't prefer to use the word 'promiscuous' while referring to teenagers indulging in sex. “That will be judgemental. For that matter, even a marriage can be promiscuous, if the couple keep indulging in sex, say, thrice a day,” the professor says. “However, it is sad that some young people tend to build their identity on the basis of 'Been there, done that'. In the UK, in a study, the respondent teenage girls said they all had sex. Later on they said that they actually didn't have sex, but had said so earlier only to conform to the general trend in their age-group. No doubt that this sort of compulsion out of peer pressure is bad,” he adds.

“The approach in such situations”, says Dr Parikh, “must not be restrictive”. Teenagers “will not listen, if they are told to abstain from sex because it is 'not right' or it is 'not moral'. They must be engaged into responsible decision-making process,” he explains. According to Dr Seshadri, that essentially means “children must have the right to know about sex and sexuality, so that they can make informed choices”. He says, in countries where children make informed choices, the age of first sexual experience is higher than that in countries where children don't have access to information.

In this context he mentions that the 'sex education' programmes of the government and the UNICEF are flawed because they look at issue from the reproductive angle. “They look at the thing as an 'act'. But sexuality is more than reproduction”. There are, indeed, several other dimensions to human sexuality: discovery, dreams, peer experiments, fear of rejection and at times, unfortunately, sexual abuse. “A repeatedly sexually-abused child can have a disaffirmed 'sexual identity'. So there is need for personal safety workshops and some sensitisation for the kids,” explains Dr Seshadri.

“You have to make them understand the harmful effect of sexual activities at an early age when the body is not fully prepared,” echoes Dr Parikh, adding, “Give the children the space to take the decision. Sense of responsibility will not develop, if parents and teachers shut out the children”.

Dr Seshadri cites an example of his workshop on 'life skills' where curious teenagers are made to reflect upon several aspects like commitment, relationships, honouring women, health hazards and the like. “The ultimate idea is to create a responsible framework”.

DIMENSIONS AND PROBLEMS IN SEX: “Our conventional understanding of human sexuality is not even 15 per cent of the potential sexual experiences. We generally look at sexuality in terms of gender, marriage, procreation, use of genital organs, relationships, consensual activities and male primacy. But there's lot more dimensions that are often left out. Like, sex between a married couple who don't want child; relationship between a person and a sex worker; non-genital sex; masturbation, and the rest.
“There are lot of problem areas: in case of consensual sex there can be situations of abuse, be it child abuse or marital rape; in case of relational sex there can be case of incest. There can be situations of loveless sex; the act may not be mutually pleasurable. Then, there are cases of sex addictions which is dangerous. Moreover, in India, male primacy dominates a sexual relationship; a 'good' woman is not expected to talk of or demand sex. Our society is not egalitarian. It is patriarchal. Only when we begin to understand sexuality in these wider frameworks that our views become more nuanced”.
--- Professor Shekhar Seshadri of NIMHANS

(Part of this article was published in the Sakàl Times, Pune, India)